Archive for March, 2013

An upright pedal piano by Challen

From that time onwards our lives would never be the same, with very little money coming into our home, and no sick pay available for Dad. We would all have to endure a lot of hardship. Mum had to find out what benefits we were entitled to, which in those days was a pittance compared with today.

When Mum came home from the welfare office we could see how upset she was. We were told that a welfare officer would be coming to assess our needs. In those days they could even tell you to sell household items if they thought they were not essential. The only non-essential furniture in our house was Mum’s piano. One night the piano was wheeled to my aunt’s house, which was in the next street to us. Aunt Mary said she would keep it there until after the welfare person had been. At least Mum would be able to keep her beloved piano.

Dad was in hospital some time before he was strong enough to walk about. As soon as he was able, he would make his way to the hospital balcony which faced the street, and from there he could wave to us. Children were not allowed to visit anybody in hospital at that time so it was the only way we could see our Dad. From the Hackney hospital, Dad was sent to a convalescent home to help his recovery. As the home was some miles from where we lived it was very difficult for Mum to visit. There was no money for bus or train fares.

Dad comes home

Then to our great excitement Dad was well enough to come home. We thought everything would be back to normal until Mum said: “Your Father is still very ill, and you are all to be quiet and not to worry Dad with anything.”

Mum was finding life very hard with Dad home all day, and the lack of money made the situation worse. My Father was finding it difficult to adjust to his new life-style. Before, he was such an active man, used to working long hours. Now all he was able to do was listen to the radio as being a poor reader he was unable to pass the time reading.

He began to feel quite useless and irritable, and it was Mum who had to put up with his anger. She was finding that her own life had changed. After being used to having the house to herself during the day, her routine was now based around Dad.

Visiting friends

My Mother was a sociable person. Once her housework was finished for the day, she loved to visit friends, or invite them to our house for a good gossip. This routine came to a stop as Dad was not strong enough to be left on his own, and he did not like visitors, particularly my Mum’s friends. For some reason Mum invariably chose dirty people to be friends with and Dad had warned her before about having them in our house. His language could be quite colourful at times, and being a blunt-speaking man he would offend Mum’s friends. Soon they had all stopped calling, leaving Mum with no social life. It was not long before my Mum and Dad started to have rows with each other, not because they had lost their love for one another, but because of the situation they found themselves in.

My sister Emm was the cause of more arguments as she had been seen out with a boy and one of the neighbours had informed my parents. Dad was very angry with her. I think part of his anger was because she was his favourite daughter and had not confided in him. Emm was told she was not to see the boy anymore, as she was far too young to have boyfriends at sixteen. My sister refused to speak to Dad, which made him even more miserable. So at that time our home was not a very happy place.

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in school, the first

When my first day at school arrived, my sisters took me into the infants’ classroom where I met my teacher, Miss Kaye. I had a badge pinned on to my jumper with my name printed in bold letters – DAISY LEE – I was then told to sit at one of the desks. I felt quite grown-up and excited. However, when I realised my sisters were all in different classrooms my excitement turned to tears. I thought they had abandoned me, and for the first time I was on my own. We had lessons in the morning, followed by games in the afternoon, and we then had to have a rest on very hard camp beds. When my sisters came to collect me I started to cry again, as I had thought I would not see them any more. After the first few days I soon settled into school life.

My week now consisted of school from Monday to Friday. Saturday was a free day for playing with friends. Apart from the time we spent with Mum around the piano, Sunday was a very busy time for the family. Everyone was dressed in their best clothes, we went to church morning and evening, and in the afternoon we went to Sunday school. Then we had to find time to visit our Gran, Dad’s Mother, and other relatives. I think Gran was glad when our visit was over and sometimes she would not even ask us in. I thought Gran was a miserable old lady and I was always glad to go back home. Our house smelt lovely on a Sunday, as Mum would bake jam tarts and what we called rock cakes (they were like little fruit cakes). We had some with our tea, and the rest were stored in a tin for various visitors during the week.

Bath nights

The evenings that stand out in my mind are Friday evenings, which were bath night in our house. With seven children and two adults this took quite a lot of organising. Dad would have to heat all the water over the open fire, then the tin bath was brought in from the back yard and placed in front of the fire.

When there was sufficient hot water Mum would start to wash us and Dad would be ready with a clean towel to dry us. The water was never emptied, just topped up with hot water. Whoever was last ended up with water more dirty than clean. So much for hygiene. Dad would then carry the youngest of us on his shoulders up to bed, while the older girls were allowed to stay up a bit later.

Another addition to the family

Time went by and there was another addition to the family. My Mother, to the delight of my Father, had another son. They named him Brian Frederick. However, all was not well with our Mum this time, as the midwife was not too particular as regards cleanliness and Mum picked up an infection. The doctor told Dad that she was seriously ill with septicaemia, and would have to be admitted to hospital. The neighbours rallied round to help Dad, cooking meals and doing the laundry, as he could not afford to stay home and look after us. My elder sisters had to make sure we attended school and looked clean and tidy, and the new baby was cared for by my Mother’s friend.

I suppose Mum was in hospital for a few weeks, but to our family it seemed an age before she came home looking very thin and frail. All of us were delighted to welcome her home, but it was a while before she was her old hard-working self.

Disaster strikes

It was now 1938, a year before the Second World War. My eldest sister Emma, always known as ‘Emm’, had left school and was working. She seemed very grown-up to me. This left five girls of school age, my sisters Anne, Lillian, Mary, Kathleen and me, and my two brothers at home with Mum. Everything seemed to be going well for our family, but without any warning, disaster struck. Our Dad had a major heart attack while at work. He would never be able to work again. Mum left us at home when she rushed to the hospital, so we knew something serious had happened, as we had never been left on our own before. It was very late when our Mum returned, she looked so worried and we could see that she had been crying. We were told that our Dad was seriously ill, and would be in hospital a long time. It was a very subdued family who went to bed that night.

Photo credit: roujo

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English: Hackney Wick station platform signage...My entry into this world on November 2nd 1933 was followed by my Father’s exit as he slammed the street door shut. He was on his way to the pub, not to celebrate my birth, but to try to forget his bitter disappointment at being presented not with the son he yearned for, but a sixth daughter. I can only wonder how my Mother must have felt.

My family lived in Hackney Wick, East London. We had a small terraced house with two rooms up and two rooms down – no bathroom or indoor lavatory. In those cramped conditions lived six children and two adults. At that time there was severe hardship and poverty in our area, and most of our neighbours found it very hard to feed and clothe the large families they had. Dad being in regular employment meant we always had good hot dinners, tidy clothes and a clean comfortable home.

My father

My Father, George Charles Lee, was a house decorator and carpenter. He worked long hours and earned a good wage. He was a warm loving man, with a quick violent temper. He was stocky in build, fair-haired and had the most beautiful blue eyes. He was a great help to my Mother in the home, which in those days was very unusual. Although he longed for a son, he took a great pride in how his six daughters looked and behaved. We were never allowed to wait outside public houses if our parents were having a drink inside, even though it was a regular sight to see children of all ages waiting until late at night for their parents to come out. Dad made sure we were home, with my eldest sister looking after us. He made many of our dresses on an old sewing machine, and our shoes were kept in good repair with cheap leather he bought at the local market.

My Mother

My Mother, Emma Elizabeth Lee, like the majority of women in those days, was a housewife. She was slim in build, and had very good posture which gave the impression of her being tall. She had lovely high cheek bones, complemented by her clear almost porcelain looking skin. I remember whatever tasks she was doing in the home, her appearance was quite fashionable and always very clean. She loved entertaining us on a Sunday afternoon by playing the piano. She had never had a piano lesson but had the gift of playing any of the popular tunes of the day. We all enjoyed this as it was the only day of the week the parlour was unlocked, so it seemed special to us. Though not a woman to show her emotions, being easily embarrassed, she cared dearly for her husband and her family.

With six children and a husband to look after, she worked very hard in the home. Monday being washday was the worst day for her, as you can imagine the amount of washing she had to do. There were no labour-saving machines in those days, and everything had to be washed by hand, rinsed, and then put through the mangle. Once dry, it all had to be ironed with flat irons heated on the fire.

A son at last

Three years after my birth, my Mother was expecting again, and the baby was due any day. There were no scans in those days to let you know the sex of the baby. This time there would be cause for celebration – at last a long-awaited son is born, named after my Father, George Charles Lee.

Our family now seemed complete. Life was happy for us, apart from the occasional rows between my Mother and Father – these were mainly to do with money, or one of us misbehaving. When this happened we all tried to keep away from our Dad, as he would lash out in temper. I can remember he hit me with a copper stick making red weals on my legs when I misbehaved one day. He was always sorry when his temper had cooled down.

Looking back, our days at that time seemed to be spent in perpetual sunshine. The street was our playground, as apart from the occasional horse and cart, the road was traffic-free and ideal for our games.

All the children joined in, and as most families were large it could be quite a gathering. We had a season for playing whip and top, marbles, kick the can, hopscotch and cigarette cards. I do not recall the rules we had to abide by, but there was many an argument when they were broken. If anyone did not behave themselves, one of the neighbours would soon let our parents know. Then you were in real trouble.

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